Tokamak Energy clears path to next stage of fusion power

Oxfordshire-based firm receives government backing for next-generation reactor

Tokamak Energy’s new advanced fusion prototype will be built at UKAEA’s Culham campus. Photo: Tokamak Energy
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The British government has given backing to the company aiming to bring nuclear fusion-generated power to the country's electricity grid within the next 15 years.

Tokamak Energy will build a new fusion energy advanced prototype with power plant-relevant magnet technology at the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority’s (UKAEA) Culham campus, near Oxford.

Ultimate solar energy

Nuclear fusion is often viewed as the ultimate goal of energy generation, as it employs the same process that drives the Sun.

Distinct from nuclear fission, where energy is gleaned from the splitting of atoms, fusion is a process that combines atoms.

When a mix of two forms of hydrogen (deuterium and tritium) are heated to form a controlled plasma at temperatures hotter than the Sun, the atoms fuse together to create helium and release energy, which can be harnessed to produce electricity and heat.

The hot plasma is confined using strong magnets in a doughnut-shaped device called a "tokamak". The energy created from fusion can be used to generate electricity and heat in the same way as existing power stations.

Fusion is extremely efficient, creating many million times more energy, per kilogram of fuel, than burning coal, oil or gas.

Designs for the prototype are under way in partnership with construction consultants McBains, with completion planned for 2026.

Major step forward

The chief executive of Tokamak, Chris Kelsall, said building the prototype was "a major step forward" to having fusion-generated power in the UK's electricity grid by the early 2030s.

"Our next device, ST80-HTS, aims to validate key engineering solutions needed to make commercial fusion a reality and will showcase our world-class magnet technology at scale," he said.

"It’s clear public and private partnerships of this nature will be a crucial catalyst for fusion to deliver global energy security and mitigate climate change.”

The device is designed to control plasma for at least 15 minutes. Current tokamaks keep the plasma in place for seconds.

The longer the plasma is held in place by the magnets, the more power can be generated from the nuclear reaction.

Building the plant for the ST80-HTS should take about three years, after which a prototype power station would be the next stage in the development of viable nuclear fusion-generated electricity.

Updated: February 10, 2023, 12:42 PM